Those of us who survived Zanu’s Gukurahundi genocide are very familiar with the terror tactics that have kept the ruling party in power.That is why, as soon as the party’s acting spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa launched into an angry tirade on Monday against “enemies of Zimbabwe”, I correctly predicted that state security agents would conduct overnight raids on the homes of opposition figures and civil society activists.
The country is in the grip of a state-orchestrated siege. Opposition leaders, civil society activists, journalists, trade unionists and pro-democracy campaigners have fled their homes in fear of abduction, torture and outright assassination. Although this looks like a Sunday picnic compared to the industrial-scale slaughter of Zapu supporters in the 1980s by the same outfit which controls the levers of power today, there are spine-chilling similarities.
The Zanu PF government is criminalising dissent and labelling every critic a terrorist. Lord Peter Hain, a former British government minister and respected anti-apartheid campaigner, is now urging the British government to ensure that sanctions are extended to Zimbabwean ministers and security chiefs for gross human rights violations. It is a stunning development, considering that Hain was working with the Moti family in actively promoting this country as a viable investment destination after the 2017 military coup which catapulted Emmerson Mnangagwa to power. Today, Hain says the Zanu PF government’s rogue actions must be condemned by all civilised people.
By mid-day yesterday, central Harare resembled a ghost town as soldiers intimidated law-abiding citizens. People going about their business were sent scurrying for cover by AK47-wielding troops. In flagrant violation of this week’s High Court order which declared the heavy-handed enforcement of Covid-19 lockdown regulations unlawful, the security forces trampled on the constitutional right to free movement.
In Bulawayo, police raided the home of journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu. According to the search warrant, they suspect he has “cellular phones, computers, cameras, offensive or subversive material” which are likely to be used “during the illegal demonstration”. Astonishing! Mathuthu’s only crime is that he was instrumental in exposing the US$60 million Covid-19 procurement scandal.
Elsewhere in the country, videos on social media showed soldiers viciously whipping civilians and forcing commuters off buses and loading them into army trucks. Their fate is unknown.
The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in Section 59 of the constitution: “Every person has the right to demonstrate and present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully.” And yet in recent days we have witnessed the arrest of Namatai Kwekweza. How does a lone 22-year-old lady wielding a placard pose a threat to national security?
The criminalisation of dissent marks Zimbabwe’s full return to the league of rogue states.